If you’ve ever been to your local automotive parts store and checked out the packaging on LED headlight globes, you’ll know that many, if not most, have some disclaimer like: “NOT ADR APPROVED – FOR OFF ROAD USE ONLY”.

That’s a great cover for the company that produces the LED upgrade kit, because they’ve told you, right there, that it’s not legal to use those lights on the road.

  • Upgrading to LED lighting might seem smart, but could get you in trouble
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People do, of course buy and use these lights. LED lighting makes a tremendous upgrade to the nighttime driving experience in most cars, especially older cars with dull yellow halogen headlights.

The obvious must be reiterated, though. If you drive on the road with LED lighting that hasn’t been ADR (Australian Design Rule) approved, you are putting yourself at risk of a fine and/or a defect notice.

Anecdotally, it’s probably not a likely scenario that you’ll be pulled over for having LED headlights unless they are obnoxiously bright and may cause other road users to be dazzled (which could be a fine and demerits points), or if they are badly levelled or angled so that they lights aren’t effectively illuminating the path ahead.

Keep in mind, though, that the brands that are making and marketing these upgrades aren’t doing anything illegal, and nor are the shops that stock and sell them.

Aftermarket lighting equipment brand, Narva, states that: “If you are driving a car on our roads with factory-fitted (important for later) LED globes, they will be ADR approved.

“So why aren’t aftermarket LED globes and conversion kits ADR approved? This is something few think about when purchasing globe upgrades, but it is important to know, because if you decide to retrofit LED globes to your vehicle and drive it on Australian roads, you risk violating relevant legislation.

“However, when we say ‘relevant legislation’, what we mean is that this area actually remains unregulated. That’s right: there are currently (at the time of writing) no specific laws that govern their use. The reason we state on our Surefit and Performance LED globe packaging that they are not ADR approved is because there is no Australian Design Rule to approve them against. We do this so that consumers can make an informed choice about their purchase.”

And if you were to fit a set of LEDs to headlight housings designed for halogen lights, not LEDs, there is a chance that the reflective design of the original light assemblies would adversely affect the light path of the new LEDs fitted.

The reflector housing in a halogen headlight surround is made to direct the light from the globe where it needs to be – but the design of a LED could mean that it could see the light scattered incorrectly, and may cause undue stress to other road users. 

In New South Wales, the state’s transport agency’s Vehicle Standards Information VSI.64 Rev.1 from August 2021 states that lamps containing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are: “common on modern vehicles due to their high efficiency”, and that “there is also an increasing range of LED globes that are intended as replacements for traditional filament globes, both in headlamps as well as other lamps such as indicators”.

“Retrofitted LED globes are permitted as long as they are designed as a direct replacement for the original globe, and maintain the compliance of the lamp with the relevant requirements. Some aftermarket LED globes may fit directly into the original vehicle housing, but these still need to be assessed that they comply with the applicable vehicle standards.

“Except for a vehicle manufacturer’s approved replacement part, before purchasing an aftermarket LED lamp or replacement LED globe for a fitted lamp, check that its manufacturer clearly states on its packaging that the lamp/globe is suitable for road use and complies with the relevant ADR requirements.”

And to get technical, LEDs must comply with the same technical requirements “including ADR 51/00 as those containing filament/incandescent globes, including the intensity, distribution, and colour of their emitted light”.

As such, you might well be able to upgrade your lighting system if you find a set of LED lights that have their own housing, so you aren’t fitting a set of LED globes to an existing halogen-spec housing. And even then, if the light output is more than 2000 lumen there are more hoops to jump through, such as auto-levelling and washing/cleaning systems.

As for penalties? Your vehicle could be defective, requiring the lighting to be removed, with OE-spec ADR-compliant equipment fitted back into the car, and it will need to be inspected before you can drive it again.

There may also be fines applicable. In NSW, you could face a $116 fine for “use other lights not as prescribed”, or “use/allow use of light on/in vehicle likely/to dazzle” which has a $116 fine and a demerit point attached.

Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

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Matt Campbell
Matt Campbell is a Senior Contributor at CarExpert.
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